Following the groundwork laid by the Trilateral Summit at Camp David in August, Japan and South Korea are set to enhance their cooperation, putting aside historical disputes. Before the conclusion of this week's APEC meeting in San Francisco, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol held a bilateral meeting, marking their seventh summit this year.
The two leaders, along with U.S. President Joe Biden, engaged in a brief closed-door meeting and later participated in a panel discussion at Stanford University on Nov. 17, the closing day of the APEC meeting. The discussion, themed "Japan-South Korea and Japan-U.S.-South Korea Advanced Technology Cooperation," was moderated by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, highlighting the U.S. government's emphasis on Japan-South Korea relations.
Kishida and Yoon pledged to strengthen cooperation in various fields, including clean energy supply chains, quantum computing, and other innovative technologies. The two countries plan to jointly establish a carbon-neutral fuel supply chain involving hydrogen and ammonia to enhance their bargaining power and ensure fuel supply.
Additionally, they aim to explore new ways to benefit startups in both countries, with South Korea set to establish a startup center in Tokyo early next year. According to Yonhap News Agency, Yoon and Kishida agreed during the panel discussion to strengthen cooperation in the hydrogen energy sector and set international standards for hydrogen energy.
South Korea has been promoting a hydrogen economy, identifying it as one of three strategic investment areas along with artificial intelligence and big data in 2018. The South Korean government's basic plan for hydrogen economy development aims for hydrogen to account for 33% of the country's final energy consumption and 23.8% of its power generation by 2050, surpassing oil. Last year, the government announced a strategy to popularize 30,000 hydrogen commercial vehicles by 2030.
Resource-scarce Japan has been planning multiple energy routes, including nuclear and hydrogen energy, since 1978. Currently, Japan leads globally in hydrogen and fuel cell patents, covering hydrogen production, storage, fuel cell stacks, and key components. The South Korean presidential office stated that the two countries, led by private enterprises, will start cooperative projects in third countries and have great potential for collaboration in efficient technologies.
Kishida expressed his anticipation for the announcement of a joint carbon-neutral fuel supply chain, including hydrogen and ammonia, which can reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Nikkei News previously reported that Japan and South Korea would officially announce the establishment of the carbon-neutral fuel supply chain at Friday's panel discussion.
Nikkei News also learned that Japanese and South Korean companies plan to jointly invest in hydrogen and ammonia production projects overseas, including in the Middle East and the United States, with financial institutions related to the governments of both countries assisting in these investments. The Japan International Cooperation Bank will facilitate Japanese companies' overseas investments. The goal for Japan and South Korea's overseas cooperation is to establish a maritime supply chain by 2030 to transport carbon-neutral fuels from other countries.
Furthermore, Nikkei News revealed that Japan and South Korea will strengthen cooperation in quantum computing. Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and South Korea's Standards and Science Research Institute will sign a memorandum of understanding on quantum computing cooperation, with the University of Tokyo, Seoul National University, and the University of Chicago also enhancing cooperation in related research fields.
However, the new projects disclosed in the reports were not formally announced at Friday's panel discussion, and the related cooperation may be officially announced later.
Yoon emphasized during the panel discussion that technological innovations like quantum computing involve national security and that cooperation in these areas must occur among like-minded countries. He believes that Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. should particularly strengthen cooperation in advanced technology, AI, digital governance, and clean energy transition.
In the previous day's Japan-South Korea summit, the two countries mainly discussed political issues, including the North Korean nuclear issue, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the leaders agreed on the need to strengthen the "free and open" order in the Indo-Pacific region.
Biden took a photo with Yoon and Kishida and held a brief 10-minute closed-door meeting with them. The South Korean side mentioned that Biden expressed gratitude to Yoon and Kishida for their efforts to improve Japan-South Korea bilateral relations, as these relations are key to the U.S.'s Indo-Pacific policy.
Since taking office in May last year, Yoon's South Korean government has made concessions to Japan on issues such as labor compensation and nuclear wastewater discharge to align with the U.S., warming relations between the two governments. However, this has sparked strong dissatisfaction among South Korean civilians and the opposition. Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea and the largest party in the National Assembly, once went on a hunger strike in protest.
Yoon's approval rating has been declining, currently at 36.8%, with a disapproval rate of 60.2%. Economic livelihood, poor price control, autocratic governance, and weak diplomacy are the main reasons for the negative ratings among South Korean voters. South Korea will hold a parliamentary election in April next year, with the Democratic Party currently leading in support.
Kishida also faces similar challenges in Japan. A recent poll showed that the support rate for Kishida's cabinet has dropped to 28.3%, entering the "danger zone" below 30%. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, to which Kishida belongs, will hold a presidential election next September, and retaining his position as party leader is his urgent priority.
On the day Yoon and Kishida attended the panel discussion, the APEC Leaders' Informal Meeting also officially concluded. The San Francisco Declaration issued at the meeting did not mention any political issues or regional conflicts but focused on Asia-Pacific economics and energy transition.
The declaration committed to establishing a free, open, and fair trade and investment environment in the Asia-Pacific, necessary reforms to the World Trade Organization, including discussions to establish an effective dispute resolution mechanism by 2024; promoting regional economic integration in a market-driven manner, including advancing the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area agenda; and accelerating the energy transition, promoting the transformation and investment in zero and low-pollution vehicles.
Biden reiterated at the handover of next year's APEC meeting hosting rights to Peru that the Asia-Pacific region is a strategic focus for the U.S. He stated that the U.S.'s commitment to the Asia-Pacific is not only steadfast but "necessary."
Previously, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visits to Japan, South Korea, and India also sent a similar signal, emphasizing that despite the coexistence of the Israel-Palestine and Russia-Ukraine conflicts, the Asia-Pacific remains a focus of U.S. attention.